Award Winner - July/August 2003
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Easy Being Green

Fort Lewis College Student Life Center
Durango, Colo.

It's safe to say the students at Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colo., are a pretty green bunch. So much so that sustainable design was a tip-top priority when it came to building the new Student Life Center.


"The students are really conscious about the environment," says Jack Krider, director of the Student Life Center.

In fact, the eco-savvy student body rejected earlier plans for the student-funded project because the plans weren't green enough, opting eventually for a design that maxed out on environmental sensitivity.

The green goal was to minimize long-term impacts on the environment and its resources as well as lower long-term energy use and maintenance costs, while promoting the health and wellness of its users through nonharmful materials, better ventilation and overall better indoor air quality.


For starters, building materials were chosen that were recycled and as energy-efficient as possible.

"They went crazy with recycled materials," Krider says. "We have some pretty bizarre stuff. But you can't tell with the naked eye."

Some of the more creative choices include solid-surface countertops made from soybeans and recycled newspapers (looks like granite), cabinet faces made from corn husks and wood chips, benches and shelving from recycled milk jugs, while the locker room tiles come from recycled windshields. Of course, the pičce de résistance is probably the recycled toilet plungers used for both the track and rubber surface in the cardio/weight room. Yes, that's right, toilet plungers. (But don't fret, it's actually scrap rubber from a plunger manufacturer.)

A whole laundry list of other construction choices were poured into the sustainable design, inside and out, from heat recovery and high-efficiency mechanical systems to site considerations and permaculture landscape design practices (where all plant and wildlife is interdependent and ultimately self-sustaining with minimal maintenance).

The impressive results are not only a building that is friendly to the environment but friendly to school's 4,000 students as well.

"It's a very popular building on campus," Krider says. "We tried to make it as multipurpose as possible. It really fills a recreation need."

"This building just looks like 'fun.' Both inside and out, the recreation experience is self-evident. The blending of landscape, building materials and building layout results in a truly unique layout."

—D. Scot Hunsaker

"Great stone work/masonry. This is a beautiful project that harmonizes nicely into its surroundings. Well planned and detailed."

—Reed I. Voorhees

"Design celebrates the theme very well. Great solution on a budget."

—Paul Brailsford

Submitted by: Sink Combs Dethlefs in Denver

Size: 50,500 square feet

Project cost: $6.53 million

Quick tour:

  • Three-court gymnasium with suspended three-lane track. Gym also has dataline and phone hookups so it can be used for special events like expos and wellness fairs. The roof is also designed to hang rigging for lights and sound for major concerts.
  • Natural light floods through to the 35-foot-high, semi-circular climbing wall, creating a dramatic entry element
  • 3,600-square-foot weight-training, cardiovascular and aerobic area
  • Two meeting rooms and a study lounge for student clubs and organizations
  • Men's and women's locker rooms
  • Outdoor Pursuits area to outfit students with skiing, cycling, camping and rafting gear

Associated Firms

Associated architect: R. Michael Bell & Associates

Structural engineer: Martin/Martin

Mechanical and electrical engineer: Gorden, Gumeson & Associates

Civil engineer: McLaughlin Water Engineers

Landscape architect: Design Concepts

Sustainable design consultant: Kelly Karmel of Design Balance

Contractor: Colorado Jaynes Construction Co., Durango Office

Programming/operational consultant: The Sports Management Group

Wood flooring: Connor Sports Flooring Corp.

Synthetic sports flooring: Tuflex Rubber Flooring

Climbing walls: Eldorado Wall Co.

Racquetball courts: Sports Unlimited

Gymnasium lighting: SPI Lighting Group

Accent lighting: Winona

Fluorescent lighting: Metalux

Lockers: Lyon Workspace Products

Locker room flooring: Forbo

Locker room tile: Terra Industries

Free weights: Magnum Fitness Systems

Stationary bikes, treadmills and ellipticals: Precor Inc.

Circuit strength: Free Motion Fitness

Scoreboards: Daktronics Inc.

Basketball backboards: Aalco Manufacturing Company

Volleyball systems: Senoh

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